When the magnitude of the destruction that Hurricane Laura left in the Lake Charles area was fully realized, Alexis Ellis knew she needed to do something to help.
“I wanted to make a difference,” the 16-year-old junior at Destrehan High School said. “I felt like I needed to take this on as a project for me to do so that I could help others in need.”
Ellis, who lives in St. Rose, sprang into action and organized a school supply drive for elementary students at Kaufman and Prien Lake – two public elementary schools in Lake Charles.
As the president of the St. Charles Parish 4-H Club and the vice president of the Louisiana 4-H STET board, Ellis said she reached out to her 4-H contacts and other friends and family members for help. She and her friends designed and placed flyers at both DHS and Hahnville High School requesting school supplies and canned goods.
“I know for me I genuinely like helping my community, and that’s a big part of why I’m in 4-H,” Ellis said. “For me 4-H is ultimately about community involvement.”
Through the club, Ellis said she has had the opportunity to travel and help underprivileged communities, as well as communicate with different legislators in D.C.
“My biggest fear when I started this is that no one would donate,” she said. “I didn’t really have a set goal in mind, I just wanted to aim high and see where I landed.”
Ellis also met with Superintendent Ken Oertling to establish a drop-off box at the school board office.
The results of the supply drive are impressive – the first trailer heading to Lake Charles was packed with a total of 1,828 items. Supplies collected included bookbags, notebooks, pencils, pencil sharpeners, books and folders.
“Everything you would think a child would need to go to school, we have,” Ellis said. “I hope that when they receive their supplies they feel that they are loved since someone from a little tiny town on the other side of the state is thinking about them. I also hope they feel hopeful, because even though there is no way to physically reverse the damage that has been done, there’s always a way to make a bad situation better.”
Ashley Townsend, a Beta Club representative, offered to being the supplies to Lake Charles. Ellis said the drive’s success would not have been possible without Townsend, Parish 4-H Agent Kali Zammit and her friends Jaselyn Guidry, Indira Escobar and Madison Neighbors.
Ellis said her mom, Nicole Jones, was also instrumental in the success of the effort.
“She’s absolutely amazing,” Ellis said. “She asked Office Depot in LaPlace for some supplies and those are coming in this week.”
Ellis said the store also offered to sell supplies at discounted rates so that any money the drive collected could be stretched.
“This project was important to me because I felt like it was a must to help out a community devastated,” Ellis said. “What happened to the Lake Charles area could have just as easily been my community and knowing that is why I felt compelled to start this activity.”
Ellis, who is a part of DHS’ robotics team, said her future plans include studying to become a biomedical engineer – a job she sees as having a greater purpose.
“I have a desire and passion to help people,” she said. “Those engineers basically take something and make it better, and I definitely feel like that’s what I want to do.”
For more information on the drive or to donate supplies, contact Ellis at email@example.com.